History has its own ironic ways of disrupting plans, thwarting intentions and concealing its prophets. But none of these methods materialized in the tragedy of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder.
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It’s clear in hindsight that the divisions, anger and dread which many Israelis experienced on that evening 22 years ago were gut reactions, which foreshadowed with great accuracy what is happening today, despite the residue of repression and manipulation that has piled up since then. Yet Rabin’s murder embodied no comforting historic ironies. From the standpoint of its perpetrators, it was one of the most successful murders in the history of political assassinations. It fulfilled the gunman’s intentions beyond all expectations, and has continued to do so for a generation.
From the welter of emotions that accompanied the night of the murder, only one was missing: surprise. Rabin’s murder was in the air throughout the months preceding it, just as it has continued to be in the air in the two decades that have passed since. The intensity of opposition among the settlers and the right as a whole, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, coupled with the sheer scope of the incitement for his death, which focused on Rabin personally, made the question of when he would be attacked, and by whom, almost a technicality.
In retrospect, it’s clear that even Rabin’s physical murder didn’t stop the wave of incitement against the efforts at “Israeliness” which he symbolized, meaning the desire for normalcy, reconciliation and secular Hebrew sovereignty within political borders. It merely reinforced them, inter alia by deterring anyone striving to continue down this path.
Thus, in the battle for the soul of the nation and its very self-definition, the transcendent, fatalistic “Jewish” view has won – a view that lacks any boundaries and is based on fear and introversion. The tragedy could be summed up thus, were it not for another issue – that of character.
Though we’ve had other prime ministers since then, the diametric opposition between Netanyahu’s egocentric, deceptive and opportunistic personality and that of Rabin, which was somewhat wooden but based on integrity, service and responsibility, binds the two together forever in the same historic plotline. Netanyahu will continue to be dogged not just by the incitement he orchestrated against Rabin then and orchestrates against the left today, but also by how far short he falls of true leadership stature.